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The Gulag Archipelago

"Gorbachev Factor"

Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn’s international reputation to some extent protected them from persecution by the authorities. However, when in 1974 KGB agents discovered a copy of Solzhenitsyn’s manuscript The Gulag Archipelago, the authorities had had enough. The book, a copy of which had been smuggled to the West and published there, disclosed the chief Soviet secret about the scale, history, and methods of Stalin’s terror. Written as a work of political journalism, it was based on interviews with hundreds of victims of Stalinist repressions, as well as the writer’s own experience in a labor camp as part of a ten-year sentence as punishment for a critical remark about Stalin made in a letter to a friend. In contrast to Khrushchev’s “secret speech,” Solzhenitsyn’s book was a profound and fundamental condemnation of the entire Soviet system. The writer rejected the notion of Stalinism and treated the events of Stalin’s era as part of Lenin’s legacy and as a logical development of Bolshevism.  

The Gulag Archipelago (click to enlarge)

Solzhenitsyn demanded the punishment of individuals still alive who had been accomplices in Stalin’s actions, as well as the condemnation of the Communist system that had perpetrated such unspeakable crimes against its own people. Such calls could not be allowed to go unchallenged, and in 1974 Solzhenitsyn was forcibly deported to the West. However, the damage that his book did to the reputation of Soviet socialism was irreparable: with the publication of The Gulag Archipelago, nobody in the West could any longer believe in the radiant image of the USSR as the stronghold of progressive humanity and the defender of all the oppressed.

In presenting alternatives to the Soviet regime, Solzhenitsyn did not idealize Western ideological influences that filtered through the “iron curtain.” He believed that the West’s emphases on democracy and individual freedom were not entirely suited to Russia and advocated instead a benevolent authoritarian regime that would be based on the ideological and spiritual foundation of Russia’s traditional Christian values.

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